RACING royalty Andrew Balding has signed with super Sunracing for 2023.
The top trainer — who has a team of 250 horses at his Kingsclere yard — will write exclusively in the UK’s best racing pullout, The Favourite, every week, all season long and during the big Flat festivals.
Balding, the king of Kingsclere, will write for Sun Racing this Flat season
Get the lowdown on the latest news straight from the horse’s mouth and read his opinions on the hottest topics in racing.
Balding said: “I’m thrilled to be joining SE and to be able to contribute to the best racing coverage in the business.
“Our sport doesn’t get anywhere near as much exposure in the national media as it used to, so it’s important to keep as high a profile as we can.
“I’ve been a regular reader of the paper over the last 20 years and can’t wait to get stuck in.”
And Balding is hoping to get his season off to a flying start at Newmarket today when stable star CHALDEAN (4.40) runs in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
The top-class colt will be ridden by Frankie Dettori and is the leading British fancy in the first Classic of the season. He’s a 13-2 shot with bookies Coral, with the market headed by Aidan O’Brien hotshot Auguste Rodin.
Balding said: “We have high hopes for Chaldean and expect a big run. I believe he has got what it takes to be a Classic winner. It’s a very hot race but we have Frankie up, the best in the business.”
The trainer, who trains horses owned by King Charles, also opened up to Sun Racing’s Jack Keene on the season ahead and his dad Ian’s battle with dementia…
PARK life is pretty good right now.
It’s hardly surprising, given the depth of talent Andrew Balding has at his disposal at the beautiful and historic Park House Stables in Kingsclere.
Whisper it, this could even be the strongest group of horses ever assembled in this picture-postcard corner of Hampshire.
That’s saying something, when you consider the success his legendary old man, Ian, had here in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
So many champions have been trained in this neck of the woods, none more famous than Derby hero and all-time great Mill Reef.
The great horse’s statue still takes pride of place in one of the stable’s courtyards, while the quaint converted Victorian chapel — which became an emergency operating theatre when he broke his leg on the gallops in 1972 — is now home to some incredible racing memorabilia.
The yard is truly one of Britain’s hidden sporting gems. If those walls could talk . . .
But that is where the nod to the past ends, as Balding is a trainer who operates on the cutting edge.
The results on the track speak for themselves and he has been creeping ever closer to a first trainer’s championship over the last five years.
It is surely only a matter of time before Balding gets his hands on that trainer’s crown, just like his dad did in 1971.
Read Balding every week in Sun Racing
No doubt the surname Balding brought with it a good deal of pressure when the fresh-faced trainer took over the licence in 2003.
Could young Andrew keep up the proud family tradition — or would he struggle to scale the heights of his relatives?
Any sceptics had their answer pretty quickly as he wasted no time in bagging a Classic just a few months into his reign at Kingsclere.
He said: “The sport has evolved so much since dad’s era.
“In his day he had to get horses ready for Classics without the use of all-weather gallops, hydrotherapy walkers and without the core exercise build-up we get into them in January and February.
“Back then they would have just been trotting and walking at that time of year.
“As facilities have evolved, so have training styles and the preparation we give our top horses would be totally different to the way Mill Reef was trained 50 years ago. But to take over a yard like this, with all the history and some unbelievable facilities, it really is a privilege.
“There is a weight of expectation that comes with such a rich family history in the sport and you need to hit the ground running. Luckily, we did.
“We had Casual Look win the Oaks and another cracking horse called Phoenix Reach who won a few big races around the world.
“It immediately takes the pressure off and people, who may have questioned you at the start, quickly know you can do the job.”
This is as serious a training operation as you’ll find anywhere in the world — but Balding isn’t someone who takes himself too seriously.
In truth, you need to have a decent sense of humour if you are a Southampton season ticket holder. Certainly at the moment.
He is still a little embarrassed when recalling the time he bawled his eyes out on the BBC while being interviewed by his famous sister Clare after Casual Look had won the Oaks.
And he smiles as he is reminded of the occasion he went racing at Windsor in odd shoes — one loafer and one lace-up.
This is a man totally at ease in his surroundings — it’s only when he heads to the racecourse the game face comes on.
But he couldn’t do it without the support of his wife Anna-Lisa who oversees the running of virtually every other aspect at the yard.
Balding grins: “She tells me what to do and I try to do it! No doubt there are times when I frustrate her.”
The pair have ridden out the highs and lows of the sport together and, though they now have 250 horses in the yard, they are not the type of people who rest on their laurels.
He continued: “We have definitely got a lot stronger over the last 10 years or so and a yard of our size should really be finishing in the top four of the championship every season, which we’ve done recently.
“You can never take anything for granted in this game though.
“If you do, it will come back and bite you on the backside.
“You need to keep moving and adapting because there are plenty of other very good trainers out there who are ambitious and waiting for an opportunity.
“I never start out the year thinking we can win the championship. It’s one of those where, if you are in a strong position after the Ebor meeting in August, you can have a real good go.
“Mind you, I’d like to think we are getting closer each season and it would be incredible to do it.”
Training horses and winning races is very much a team game.
Balding said: “Absolutely. It’s not just about Anna-Lisa and I.
“From top to bottom it is all about the team.
“I have the most brilliant staff and they do all the hard work.
“You are only as good as the people who work for you.
“We train horses for some lovely people and our goal each season is to have as many winners for as many different owners as possible — we can dream about a title down the road.”
He doesn’t have to imagine what it’s like to win a 2,000 Guineas, though, having already bagged one with Kameko back in 2020, for all there wasn’t a soul to see it.
Racing had just restarted after the Covid-19 shutdown back then, and Balding would love to soak up the atmosphere of a Guineas winner with all the bells and whistles attached.
In Dewhurst hero Chaldean, he definitely has the horse for the job. Dare we say it, could he be Balding’s Mill Reef?
He said: “It was a very weird experience on a racecourse during that time and when Kameko won his Guineas. This time it will be a very different experience.
“Everything had gone to script with Chaldean until the start of the Greenham when he was bumped and Frankie came off.
“It was one of those freak accidents and it was worrying.
“As soon as I saw it happen I just thought, ‘don’t hurt yourself’.
“Thank God, we managed to catch him in the pull-up area and he didn’t gallop off and do another circuit of the track.
“While he had a spin down the track at Newbury he could have done with a race.
“If he gets a little tired in the final furlong of the Guineas maybe the lack of one will have had a bigger impact than we think, but we won’t know until the business end of the race.
“Happily, Chaldean seems to have come out of it well and Frankie rode him in his work last Saturday and it went great.
“Classics are the races trainers are judged on. They have so much history and to win them is to join the sport’s elite.
“That’s why they mean so much.
“It’s too early to be talking about Chaldean as a potential champion, but we love him and hope he can achieve great things.”